Review: OnLive

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After getting a few weeks of quality time with OnLive, I can confidently say OnLive is the revolution the gaming industry desperately needs.

The Hardware:

My initial impressions after opening the black matte slip-top box which the MicroConsole, and other accessories are packaged in were extremely positive. Most products are a royal pain in the ass to open, and only include the bare minimum to get the user started. This isn’t the case with the OnLive MicroConsole bundle. The package included the MicroConsole, a controller, HDMI cable, USB cable, rechargeable battery pack, batteries (for just the standard battery pack), power supply, and an Ethernet cable. While some of those are required, such as the HDMI cable, Ethernet cord, and power supply, and controller; the other items on the other hand are not.

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I was pleasantly surprised and even impressed that a rechargeable battery pack was included. Normally that wouldn’t seem like such a huge deal, however with so many manufactures taking short-cuts; OnLive goes well beyond what is normally offered to get the user started. The packaging is also easy to take apart, without feeling cheap, and everything is clearly labeled. It’s also important to note that you get all of this for $99. Considering everything that is included, we’d say that’s more than a fair price.

The MicroConsole lives up the name and won’t take anywhere near the amount of space its full-blown console counterparts do. We’ve included the official dimensions below.

Dimensions:

Height: 0.9 inches (22 mm)
Width:  3.2 inches (81 mm)
Depth:  4.9 inches (124 mm)
Weight: 0.5 pounds (0.25 kg)

Potential buyers may no doubt have some concerns about the durability of the device due to its size; however I’m confident that normal wear and tear won’t provide any ever-lasting issues to the device. Another benefit to the device is that, users won’t have to worry about catastrophic system failures, or even disc drives flaking out. As someone who constantly worries about the reliability of both the PS3 and Xbox 360, the OnLive MicroConsole is a welcome addition from a technical aspect. Reliability is sadly one of features consumers might look over when it comes to OnLive; however it’s foolish to do so. I’ve never felt more comfortable owning a console.

The Controller:

From an appearance standpoint the OnLive controller closely resembles the Xbox 360 controller; however it’s noticeably more bulky. In fact, it’s a hybrid of the Dualshock, and Xbox 360 controller respectively, without maintaining a cheap third-party look and feel. It’s certainly not as good as the Xbox 360 controller, mostly due to how bulky it is, and doesn’t quite have the D-pad to match up with the PS3’s Dualshock. The OnLive Gamepad sits somewhere in-between the third-party controllers and first-party console offerings. One other thing that stood out was the gaps below the brag clip buttons. There’s enough of a gap in that section of the controller that just comes off as tacky. Ultimately though, it’s a solid controller that will hopefully improve with later iterations.

The Service:

The most asked question is, “does it work?” Yes, it works, however my experience wasn’t completely error free. Initially, before the MicroConsole arrived I spent several hours tackling the PC side of things. One of my biggest criticisms towards OnLive is that it isn’t completely a full-circle service. There are quite a few titles that don’t support both the Gamepad and Keyboard and Mouse, yet they did have a Console counter-part. However, in OnLive’s defense, it’s at the publisher’s discretion. Be that as it may, it would be nice to see Sid Meiers: Pirates (as an example) get a Gamepad option in the future. The first title I had the pleasure of testing out was The Witcher. This title is something I’ve wanted to play for the longest time, however never had the PC to properly run it. This is perhaps one of the biggest selling points of OnLive. You don’t need a decent computer to run it. During my time with The Witcher I experienced no hiccups or issues. My initial playtime was around 4 hours. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say the service ran as smooth as silk.

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It’s important to note that my playthrough with The Witcher was in ideal conditions. I’m sure in most households gaming isn’t exactly ideal. Many people could be using a wireless connection on their laptop or even consoles. To replicate this I decided to bust out the laptop and see just how well OnLive worked. Overall I had the same quickness with a relatively spotty connection. There were a few times when I’d be booted out of a title, or things would slow down to a crawl; however that was indicative of my internet and not the service.

The MicroConsole was where things begin to become a bit more inconsistent. Up until then, I had virtually no issues with the service. The MicroConsole essentially allows a more console-oriented player to enjoy the same benefits as someone who uses OnLive purely from a PC. The setup is extremely easy. Once you plug in the power supply, HDMI cable, and Ethernet cord, you’re good to go. First time users will also have to download the latest firmware for the device. Like the PC side the boot-up is literally a second or two. No patches, no annoying messages about downloadable content, and no online passes.

Arena Review: OnLive

These things have been absolutely killing gaming, and to see them minimized was extremely refreshing. I mentioned before that I had more issues with the MicroConsole rather than the PC app. There was a few times where games wouldn’t boot up (Advent Rising), and a few times the screen would go black for a couple seconds before returning to what I was playing. This frequently happened in NBA 2K11. Usually exiting the game and re-launching would fix the issue; however it was still extremely annoying, though not a game-breaker.

OnLive is packed-full of unique features. There’s Facebook sharing, where you can share brag clips (we will get to that) to your friends. My biggest pet peeve about this feature is that it requires you to get on your PC, and log in through the OnLive site to activate it. This is one of the many things I hope gets fixed going forward, because it goes against how simplistic and convenient OnLive is.

Next up is the Arena. The Arena allows you to check out hundreds of people playing all the titles OnLive has available. Not only is it a great tool for sales, but it’s also quite enjoyable to watch others play another game. Voice chat is available, however the feature is still in beta, and not many people were using it. Eventually I would like to see some sort of text chat available for those spectating. While spectating, players have the option to add them as a friend, jeer, or cheer them. It would also be nice to get a reason along with the jeer or cheer.

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By far the most enjoyable feature is the brag clips. Users can record a 10 second clip of their gaming exploits. While recording brag clips wasn’t exactly my thing, watching the community based ones was an absolute blast. I couldn’t count how many hilarious, awesome, and downright stunning videos that made it into the community section. Users could burn several hours watching tons of fantastic videos, without ever having to open YouTube. It’s a complete game-changer.

The Marketplace:

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at OnLive is the lack of titles. Currently the service sports a ton of heavy hitters such as Borderlands, Homefront, Batman: Arkham City, and L.A Noire. As previously stated, not all titles have the Gamepad option, so going forward it’s my hope that OnLive can do what they can to get some of those with each option. My fear is that without some sort of balance the service may become lop-sided.

Each week OnLive has been adding more titles to the service, and while not all of them are AAA, they’re welcome nonetheless. During the few weeks I’ve had the service, NBA 2K12, Driver: San Francisco and Super Street Fighter: Arcade Edition have been added. As soon as EA reestablishes itself on the service I can see OnLive exploding, especially if they manage to get Battlefield 3.

Aside from the basic purchase options, OnLive has a few other flexible options for those not wanting to drop the full amount on the title. Several (not all) the titles have rental options, along with a 30-mintue free trial period. If that wasn’t enough incentive, OnLive also offers a service similar to that of Netflix. For $9.99 users have full access to over 100 titles in the PlayPack bundle. Some of these titles include Borderlands, Homefront, and even Batman: Arkham Asylum. It’s a fantastic deal, with no required contract, and users can opt-out at anytime. The only criticism I have toward the service is that a credit card is required. It would be nice for OnLive to offer other payment options such as PayPal.

The Verdict:

OnLive is far from perfect; however the convenience, unique features, and cost out-weight most of the negatives. While the service isn’t exactly connected completely in some facets, and the game library could improve further, these are minor issues to what is really a fantastic service. It’s been years since we’ve got a piece of technology that really changes the way we see gaming, and OnLive is here to lead that revolution.

For more information on how we review games check out our criteria here. OnLive provided TheParanoidGamer with a console to review along with full access to their game library for reviewing purposes.